Cult Film Corner: WarGames

I’d been struggling for ideas of what to watch for Cult Film Corner recently, but a conversation with myself on Twitter (isn’t that always the way?) brought to mind an interesting theme. With the prominence of LulzSec and Anonymous in the news, why don’t I look back at movies involving hackers and hacking! So I have, starting with 1983’s WarGames.

Opening during a secret test of a nuclear launch, it’s discovered that up to 22% of all officers with the nuclear release keys will fail to launch their missiles. With such a high failure rate, those in high office decide to take out the human element from the launch and hand all control over to Dr. John McKittrick’s (Dabney Coleman) supercomputer WOPR (War Operation Plan Response), a computer that is designed run complex military simulations 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and learn over time.

Meanwhile, in Seattle, a young gifted but easily distracted schoolboy, David Lightman (Matthew Broderick), passes his time hacking the school computer and changing his grades for the better. Spying an ad in a magazine for a company making games, he decides to hack it and play the games for himself. Coming across an unlisted directory he assumes to be the games company, he’s blocked by a password. Doing a bit of research, Lightman discovers the games are designed by an AI expert called Stephen Falken and that the password is that of his late son Joshua. Once in, David decides to play a game. He chooses Global Thermonuclear War. Little does he know that it isn’t the games company he’s hacked into, it’s WOPR. And WOPR doesn’t think it’s a game…

It’s a fun little film is WarGames. Broderick is usual charming self, readying himself for his defining role as Ferris Bueller. He’s ably assisted by a smiley giggly Ally Sheedy as Jennifer, David’s love interest, though she’s nowhere near as fanciable as she is The Breakfast Club. The good old-fashioned ticking clock is used to great effect, upping the tension as we creep toward Mutually Assured Destruction.

It’s quaint looking at all the computers and tech they had back then. Big black floppies, huge bulky CRTs, green on black text, every screen in NORAD features wire-frame animation. I don’t know much about hacking then or now, so I have no idea how plausible the tool used are. The premise itself is quite thought-provoking. How much control should we hand over to cold calculating machines? WarGames was made in 1983, a year later saw the release of Jim Cameron’s Terminator, and we all know what Skynet did in that. Luckily for us, WOPR isn’t that heartless.

More Reviews:

Troll Hunter

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (2011)

Captain America: The First Avenger


The Girl With Dragon Tattoo (2009)


Super 8

The Parallax View

Cowboys And Aliens

Swamp Thing

X-Men First Class

The Human Centipede

Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen

One Response to “Cult Film Corner: WarGames”

  1. Mister Reiner Says:

    War Games is an awesome movie!

    Did you know that many organizations didn’t have firewalls until after 2000? That many organizations still had dial-in modems that were unprotected? Sad but true!

    Time did not make security better – it made security worse! Security is more difficult and almost impossible to manage than ever. Hackers truly have the edge.

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